Friday, December 08, 2006

Behe Lecture

Krishtalka, of course, gave Behe a formal introduction, and was sure to reiterate his message from every other lecture in this series - that ID is not science blah, blah, blah....the usual. Nuf said.

On to Behe...

He started out his lecture with a rebuttal to some of the information that was provided from earlier lectures in this series.

He spoke at length about the Dover trial and Judge Jones’ decision that ID is “religion”. He said that the scientific community has put Judge Jones on a pedestal and announced that his judgment is rock solid evidence that ID is not science and does not belong in the science classroom. Behe stated that he didn’t believe that the credit for this should go to Jones, but to the lead attorney for the plaintiff, Eric Rothchild.

Behe went on to show in detail that Jones’ written 139 page decision was filled with cut and paste sections from Rothchild’s documents. Whenever Jones wrote on an academic issue, he provides a lightly edited “drag and drop” from the trial lawyer’s documents. Behe said that some judges do this to a certain extent, but not on as large a scale as Jones did. This made Behe wonder if Jones even understood all of the academic issues that were being presented to him if he had to copy so much from Rothchild's documents.

Jones did state in his lecture at KU a few months ago that he was presented with a “mind numbingly technical presentation” from the witnesses. If his mind had gone “numb”, do we have reason to believe he actually absorbed all the information presented to him? When he spoke at KU he didn’t touch on any of the issues of the debate, he only spoke of how he was deemed an “activist judge”. Perhaps this is because he wouldn’t have been able to reiterate the science that was presented to him, so he took another route. Personally, I don’t think he took as much heat for being an “activist” as he claims. The dude was featured in Time magazine as one of the most influential people of the year. He was also voted by Wired magazine as one of the “10 sexiest geeks”, and was even asked to speak at graduation commencement speeches. It sounds like his life has been pretty exciting since the Dover trial.

As far as the “stack of books and articles” presented at the trial, Behe took it as bad courtroom theatre. He said that the “stack of books” we always see in pictures was staged because pictures were not allowed to be taken in the courtroom. So, obviously, this was an antic to try to make Behe look foolish.

Behe said that current studies do not provide evidence that the immune system has been explained by evolutionary mechanisms, so he was certain that this older material piled up in front of him did not contain anything that would explain it either. In the trial, he referenced the most current 2005 standard view of the immune system and he discussed this in depth with Ken Miller during the trial, but this information was not referenced in the Jones decision. He said the 2005 article on the immune system used words like “may have”, “appears to be”, “probably”, “might have”, etc. etc. It was speculative information, and if that were true in 2005, then obviously earlier papers wouldn’t have added anything more pertinent to the discussion. The papers in question do not address how random processes explain evolution of the immune system... they simply assume that they do.

Jones also made the statement in his decision that Behe said, “Those papers were not good enough”. In fact, Behe did not say this. Those are the words Eric Rothchild tried to put in his mouth while Behe was on the witness stand. Behe actually said that they were wonderful articles, that they were very interesting, but that they simply don’t address the question as he posed it. They address a different question.

Behe said that he seems to find himself following Ken Miller around correcting these issues that Ken keeps relaying to the public. Apparently, Richard Dawkins uses these same words (“those papers were not good enough”) in his latest book, The God Delusion. So, both Miller and Dawkins are relaying inaccurate information and the scientific community is eating it up and using it against him as well.

Another misperception came out in the Q&A session. Behe was asked if he believed astrology was science because he had been quoted all over the media as saying astrology would fit in with his definition of science.

Behe stated that at that point in the trial they were discussing the definition of science. He was asked if astrology was science and Behe said he stated astrology was considered science in the 13th and 14th century and that it in part led to astronomy. He was referring to historical times, not current times. But, the media only picked up his reference to astrology being acceptable in his definition of science.

Behe made the comment that some of the things that came out of the Dover trial were “surreal distortions”, and he seemed to be frankly shocked at how much information was inaccurately relayed in Jones’ final decision.

He then went on to talk a bit about Dawkin’s lecture. Basically, Dawkins states in his book that “ID is a scientific claim“, and that he also sees design in nature. But, obviously he takes another route with this information. If Dawkins believes that ID is a scientific claim, why did Judge Jones believe it to be a religious argument?

Behe mentioned another atheist by the name of Thomas Nagel who believes that Dawkins attempts at philosophy in his book are particularly weak. You can read Nagel’s article, The Fear of Religion, on line at The New Republic (subscription needed).


Behe then goes on to make his argument for Intelligent Design. I will give a quick overview, and when the recording of the lecture is available, I’ll provide a link. He covered so much in a short amount of time, and everyone interested in this topic should listen to the entire lecture.

He broke his argument for design down into five points.

1. Design is not mystical. It is deduced from the physical structure of a system.

We detect design when we see a purposeful arrangement of parts. The more parts there are and the more precise the purpose leads to a stronger case for design.

2. Everyone agrees that aspects of biology appear to show design.

Even atheist extraordinaire, Richard Dawkins, mentions time and time again that he sees things in nature that give the appearance of being designed for a purpose. We now know so much more than we did in Darwin’s time, and we have to consider the irreducible complexity of the cell’s macromolecular machines. Recent findings give so much more direct evidence for intelligent design in nature than in the past.

3. There are structural obstacles to Darwinian evolution.

He went into his famous mouse trap example, and explained that the mouse trap needs all it’s parts to trap a mouse. If one part is missing, it doesn’t function as a mousetrap. The same is true of the bacterial flagellum and other macromolecular machines. If one part is missing, it is no longer functionable. The cell is chalk full of irreducibly complex machines such as this. He showed a few slides on how intricate these systems are and explained that for these machines to stick together and work as a system, they must have a certain shape, specific chemical surfaces, etc., etc.

4. Grand Darwinian claims rest on undisciplined imagination.

Behe said imagination is a good thing, but you may find that you are imagining things that aren’t actually there. Science is full of “just so” stories that attempt to explain many things in science. Often times these “stories” are relayed as facts. To this date there are no detailed accounts of the evolution of complex biochemical systems.

He said Dawkins and others accuse ID advocates of providing arguments from “personal incredulity” - (I don’t see how that could happen). But, Behe said that many Darwinists argue from “personal credulity” - (I don’t see any problems with that happening - how hard could it be?) They can imagine it - consider that it’s no big deal - and, then they take that as evidence.

But, when you really think about and research the many issues regarding molecular machines, there are a lot of problems to overcome in order for one to believe that Darwinian evolution can explain their appearance in nature.

5. There is strong evidence for Design and little evidence for Darwinism.

Life overwhelmingly impresses us with the appearance of design. He then showed a picture of a duck, and stated that if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. He said design is an In-duck-tive argument. (cute humor)

Basically, inductive reasoning is a logical scientific argument, and his conclusion is that ID is rationally justified by scientific data.


In the Q&A, Behe stated that ID is falsifiable as there are many papers written which try to falsify information in regard to ID arguments. He felt that Darwinian evolution is not falsifiable because even though these papers fail to refute ID arguments, (such as trying to explain the evolutionary steps for the flagellum) when they fail, scientists merely say that they still need to do further research and that at some point they will have the answers. This makes Darwinian evolution unfalsifiable.

He also said that a scientific hypothesis does not have to generate new scientific approaches, it merely has to be a true description of what happens in nature. For instance, when we discover a new planet, that doesn’t usually generate new scientific research, but it tells us about nature. There are many examples such as this. But, even though this is a fact, Behe feels that ID does trigger new research. I believe that is quite apparent, as we see paper after paper coming out trying to refute ID claims. Harvard University also has a new research project regarding the origin of life due to the push to refute the ID movement.

A few other things mentioned in the Q&A were that:

Evolution does not explain everything, and randomness and contingency in nature usually breaks things down, which can be beneficial in certain things, but breaking a system does not explain how it was made in the first place.

It was also mentioned that ID has no problems with common descent, and it is actually easily compatible with it. He said that many scientists are telling us that evolution is not random, but though natural selection is not random, random mutations are. Random mutations do not build complex structures. This is the argument between Darwinism and ID.

In my personal opinion, I find absolutely no reason why anyone would find ID non-scientific or a religious argument unless they adhere to philosophical naturalism. There was much talk at the panel discussion about the fact that we cannot invoke the supernatural into a science discussion, but this is where I completely lose patience with these “enlightened“, self appointed intellectuals. Clearly, ID, in and of itself, does not invoke discussions about the supernatural or include topics of religious thought. These type of issues only pertain to those who are considering the ~religious implications~ that may arise from the scientific inference of design. In this same manner, Darwinian evolution has ~religious implications~.

What is very interesting is that there are many people who are not philosophical naturalists, yet they disagree with design as well. There is no objective reason for this, and it will always remain a mystery to me how people perceive this movement as merely a “religious argument“.

[Edit made: 12/9 - After checking my notes from the lecture, I found an error in transmission to this post.]